Birth Control: Stroke Risk Higher In Women Taking The Pill, Other Risk Factors

First Posted: Sep 20, 2015 04:14 PM EDT

New findings published in the journal MedLink Neurology reveal that using birth control pills may increase stroke risk in women, particularly among those who are already at a higher risk of stroke. 

Previous research links an increased risk for migraines, heart attack and stroke to using oral contraception, leading researchers to conduct a meta-analysis of studies based of what's referred to as inconsistencies in the method. The new study is an update conducted by researchers at Loyal University in 2003, which revealed a connection to birth control and ischemic strokes, which are caused by blood clots.

"When prescribing oral contraceptives, doctors should balance the risks and benefits for each individual patient," said Dr. Jose Biller, a researcher at Loyola University Health System, in a press release. "For a healthy young woman without any other stroke risk factors, the benefits of birth control pills probably outweigh the risks. But if a woman has other stroke risk factors, she should be discouraged from using oral contraceptives."

The study findings revealed that women on birth control were 1.9 times more likely to have a stroke. Overall, there are 4.4 ischemic strokes per 100,000 women of child-bearing ages. The study results push the average risk to 8.5 strokes per 100,000 women, or one additional stroke for every 25,000 women using oral contraceptives.

The risk is also higher for women who take birth control and who smoke, or have high blood pressure or a history of migraines. In fact, researchers noted that women with these risks should not be taking oral contraceptives, at all.

Around 100 million women use one of the 40 oral contraceptives or have used one of the 21 brands of emergency contraceptives on the market in the United States.

"These observations obviously need to be considered in the proper context of a careful understanding of possible risks and benefits associated with the use of oral contraceptives, as well as those associated with other forms of contraception," Biller said.

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